Anyone paying attention these last few years will have noticed that global warming denial simply isn’t a rational phenomenon. And it’s not just that if there were any reason involved, then denial it would have decreased in prevalence—rather than increased—as climate science grew more firm and certain over the past two decades.
No: It’s much more than that. It’s that so many climate deniers are, let’s face it, angry. Try talking about the issue on the radio sometime. Get ready for them to call in, ready to argue with you.
Now there’s new scientific evidence documenting this emotional aspect of climate denial. In a new paper in Risk Analysis designed to tap into the “affective” component of the climate issue, Yale’s Nicholas Smith and Anthony Leiserowitz report on four separate studies of the public’s emotional associations related to climate change, conducted from 2002 to 2010.
In the surveys, people were asked about the first “word,” “thought,” “image,” or “phrase” that popped into mind in association with global warming. It was the analysis of these rapid fire responses that showed a steep increase in emotional climate denial. As Smith and Leiserowitz put it:
Several significant trends in Americans’ associations with “global warming” over time were identified. Perhaps most notable was the large increase in the proportion of naysayer images (e.g., “hoax”). The proportion of naysayer images rose from less than 10% in 2002 to over 20% of total responses in 2010.
And even as such denier associations increased, associations involving climate impacts like melting ice and sea level rise declined over the same period (though associations related to “disasters” also increased somewhat).
Fascinatingly, the study also looks more closely at the various associations made by the deniers.